Sample From Chapter 4: “The System”
One of my first IRS assignments was to co-manage a project associated with updating the corporate tax return filing system.
Together with another LMSB executive, I met with a group of IRS employees who had been detailed to a design team for this purpose. An outside consulting firm had been hired to assist the IRS team.
The design team and outside consultant had been discussing options for several weeks. Every wall of the meeting room was plastered with large sheets of paper listing the pros and cons of the project. I asked if they had arrived at any conclusions, and they said they had gotten so mired down in the project details that they were having trouble making any recommendations.
The group asked us to review a report that they were writing to management. We suggested they compose an executive summary to the document in order to help crystallize their thinking. They went back to work and returned with a ten-page executive summary for a 50-page report. Furthermore, the report contained no conclusions. They simply had not been able to identify the major issues.
My associate and I helped them to synthesize their findings into a three-page executive summary, a process that helped them see where the project was going.
Sadly, this design team exercise was typical of my experience with many Service projects. A lot of smart people are expending a tremendous amount of effort without resolving the problems to which they have been assigned. I think the problem is due to a lack of strong leadership during the design team process. Most of the process seems to be consensual, and the attempt to achieve consensus makes it difficult to maintain focus on the end result.
I have one final observation from my first 30 days at the IRS. I had been asked to participate in a team exercise with the other Senior Industry Advisors dealing with an international problem. We all traveled to Washington for a two and one-half day meeting. Facilitators are commonly used in the IRS to help lead discussions, and one had been brought in from the Midwest to help us organize our thoughts.
The meeting might have been concluded in about a day, but because it was scheduled to last two and one-half days, we all had to stay for the entire time. I believe that often too little attention is given to the dollar value of the time that is wasted by requiring meetings to last longer than necessary.
After my first 30 days I became more comfortable with the IRS way of doing things. In truth, my background with industry, especially the 22 years I spent with the very entrepreneurial and free-spirited high-technology sector, never permitted me to be fully at ease with many IRS practices.